This Saturday we head to Hartpury to take on the high flying college team
Hartpury is a small village on the edge or the Forest of Dean, about four miles North of Gloucester. It takes it name for the hard pear trees grown for making perry. The parish still uses a pear tree as its badge. The village proper has a population has a population of around 700 - about the same as at the college.
If you look for routes to Hartpury you will find their are two routes from the next village of Maisemore the A417 and the so called "Over Old Road". The name apparently dates to the Second World War when the direction signs were removed to confuse the Germans in case of invasion. They removed the Maisemore sign, but left the note that it is the old road as opposed to the newer A417. Maisemore bridge where the road crosses the Severn would be a good place to watch the Severn bore - except that it happened last week.
So why two roads?
Prior to the 18th Century parishes were responsible for maintenance of roads - which were little more than dirt tracks. Should you want to travel from London to Gloucester there was a weekly cart from the Saracen's Head on Carter Lane near St Paul's which took as many days as it took. It might be quicker to sail. Parliament passed legislation permitting trusts to build new roads and charge tolls. Engineers like Telford and Macadam introduce better surfaces. This led to the introduction of sprung stage coaches - changing horses at inns every dozen or so miles. The point of departure moved to the Gloucester coffee house on Piccadilly and multiple coaches left each day. Those with money could take the fast mail coach that would be in Gloucester in the day. Others slower stages, or carts. Fares were high especially if you wanted to sit inside. The turnpike trusts were making fortunes from tolls.
The A417 was built in 1822 by the Gloucester and Hereford Turnpike Trust. Of course by then the steam engine was changing industry. As we know in 1826 it was first used to haul a railway at Darlington. Faster and cheaper, the railways took all the traffic. Some turnpikes survived for a while as feeder roads but by 1870 all were bankrupt. However, it was the rail network that enabled sports clubs to arrange fixtures across the country and supporters to get to away games.
While Macadam's roads were smooth, the extra speed of the motor car over the horse drawn coach led clouds of dust. Hence the surface was sealed first with coal tar and more recently with bitumen - the by product of the petrol that powers the cars.
Hartpury College have gone through the season unbeaten so far, they have scored a bonus point in every game except the one at Plymouth. Plymouth came within 7 points and picked up a bonus point as did Coventry, while Fylde and Cambridge scored four tries. But those four bonus points were on the road - at home their record is perfect.
They have already scored 154 tries and more than 1000 points. Cambridge have not scored more than 143 tries - that was in the 09/10 season when we came third to Barking and London Scottish. The record for this league is 200 by Esher - the season they were relegated at the creation of the Championship and brought a Championship quality team.